New Zealand dismissed for 192 after pace bowler takes 6-51; Dhawan strokes rapid half-century
In conditions one typically associates with cricket in New Zealand, two men from Delhi stamped their authority to help India enjoy its best day of the tour so far.
Ishant Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan are nothing if not confidence players. Clearly feeding off the rush of having done well in the first Test, the tall paceman and the punishing left-hand opener continued their good work on the opening day of the second Test at the Basin Reserve on Friday (February 14).
Brendon McCullum’s awful luck with the toss spilled over to a seventh game as Mahendra Singh Dhoni again called right. India was grateful for the opportunity to have first crack at a New Zealand line-up missing Ross Taylor, and thereby looking slightly undercooked.
Ishant, who had taken 9 for 162 in Auckland including his first five-wicket haul in more than two and a half years, responded brilliantly with his Test-best figures of 6 for 51, the fulcrum around which New Zealand was sent packing for 192. New Zealand had always gambled by asking for, and getting, a surface with grass in conditions where the ball also swung considerably, and the gamble backfired completely on the back of Ishant’s fifth five-for.
Fresh off a second-innings hundred in Auckland, Dhawan then sought to drive home the advantage with a fairly exceptional half-century around which India built its close-of-play total of 100 for 2. It would have been a perfect day for India had Kane Williamson not benefitted from bowlers overstepping twice when he had been caught, and had Cheteshwar Pujara not been dismissed late in the evening. In the event, India will take things as they stand now. Trailing by 92 with eight wickets standing, there is plenty of work ahead, but India has made the ideal start in its bid for a series-levelling victory.
The start to the Indian innings was anything but ideal, with M Vijay caught behind off the last ball of Tim Southee’s first over. Having set the batsman up with deliveries that left the right-hander, Southee brought one back in. Having made up his mind that it was another outswinger, Vijay offered no stroke, but the ball ducked back in, kissed his gloves and went through to BJ Watling. Crisis time.
Dhawan responded in style, even as Pujara played carefully, with the ball right under his eyes as it met the bat. The contrast was as appealing as it was obvious. Pujara was measured, Dhawan forceful without being extravagant. Dhawan cut fiercely, whipped the ball brilliantly off his pads, left balls outside off with confidence and resisted the pull.
India looked set to go in to stumps only one down when Trent Boult, back for a second spell, caught Pujara in front with an inswinger after a stand of 87. A massive blow in the context of the game, but Ishant the nightwatchman steered the team to the close in Dhawan’s company without further damage.
Zaheer Khan has for so long been the lead paceman for India, with the other bowlers taking their cue from him, but on this tour, Ishant has emerged as the clear leader. It was not until he came on, and straightaway fell into an excellent length, that India collectively figured out what length to bowl on a surface that offered the three seamers plenty of encouragement.
Shami had looked a little uncertain, bowling too full in searching for some swing and playing into the hands of Hamish Rutherford, who drove crisply off the front foot. He had gone for 14 in his three overs when Dhoni summoned Ishant, and things immediately began to happen. Ishant’s back-of-a-length mode of operation is fraught with danger on placid tracks with little lateral movement; in the conditions on offer at the Basin, it was just about the perfect, indeterminate length. That, and his ability to procure bounce and hit the bat high, meant the batsmen needed to watch him carefully.
Rutherford and Peter Fulton were under pressure to piece together a partnership of some substance, and despite playing and missing early on, they rode their luck until Ishant struck with his ninth delivery, getting rid of Rutherford with extra bounce as the ball lobbed off the glove to first slip. Just the start he needed, and Ishant never let the intensity slip during a superb opening burst of 9-2-14-3. He bowled one slightly fuller and nipped it back to catch Fulton in front, and then spoilt Tom Latham’s debut with a snorter that the left-hand batsman followed into Dhoni’s gloves.
Because India had only three seam options at its disposal, long spells were the order of the day and except in the second session when New Zealand counter-attacked in a desperate bid to shed some pressure, the three quicker bowlers were all value for money. Saying that, India would rue the fact that Williamson was allowed to escape twice, on 15 and 23. Zaheer had him caught behind in the last over before lunch and Ishant elicited an inside edge on to pad that was smartly snapped up by Pujara at short-leg, but umpire Steve Davis checked for no-balls on both occasions and his suspicions were confirmed.
Williamson also survived a confident shout for leg before early in his innings when he tried to whip Ishant to leg, but otherwise treated the 2500 spectators at the Basin to some wonderful play off the back foot as he rode the bounce expertly, played late and with soft hands, and looked in as little discomfort as possible under the circumstances. While the rest were either slipping into a dangerous routine of play-and-miss or chancing their arm, Williamson was in perfect control for most of his innings, as his class shone through.
Ishant returned after lunch to terminate a threatening partnership between Williamson and Corey Anderson, who tried to brazen his way out of the situation. With McCullum having fallen to a poor stroke, the two had added 39 when Ishant struck a double blow, having Anderson caught off bat and pad at gully and dismissing BJ Watling with a beauty that climbed on the batsman, left him and caught the splice before nestling in Rohit Sharma’s hands at second slip.
It was in the same over that Williamson had his second no-ball escape, prompting a change in the New Zealand strategy. Watchfulness gave way to controlled aggression. Williamson stood tall and punched cleanly off the back foot even as James Neesham, the other debutant, hit the ball without inhibition. Like they had in the second session on day one in Auckland, India lost the plot somewhat. Lunch to tea produced a whopping 115 runs in only 23 overs – an abysmal over-rate – with 16 fours and two sixes, though Shami did produce a ripper that left Williamson late and resulted in a very good catch low to his left at second slip from Rohit.
The fight didn’t go out of New Zealand. Southee threw his bat at everything to tonk three big sixes. New Zealand continued to accrue useful runs down the order – 47 for the seventh, 32 for the eighth and 19 for the ninth wicket - but India continued to pick up wickets, and Shami finished things off with a lifter that Boult popped to short leg.